Time to get up swinging

During my most recent appointment with my oncologist, I talked to him about my desire to get back to the gym. Before undertaking any physical activity like this, I need to clear it with him to make sure I’m not going to do anything dangerous and hurt myself. The goal, as always, is to avoid ending up in the hospital. After our talk, he told me that he did not have any restrictions for me. My oncologist agreed with my idea for me to see a physical therapist just to get that peace of mind.

Last week, I saw a physical therapist who specializes in working with cancer patients. He had me do a series of exercises after going through my medical history. After we were done, he happily told me that he had zero problems with me going back to the gym. The only restrictions I have are avoiding exercises that could aggravate the pain and discomfort I feel in my sternum, such as push ups (haha) and fly exercises. Other than that, I’m good to go.

The day after my appointment with the physical therapist, I signed up with the new gym that opened up in the North Hills. I have an appointment tonight with a personal trainer to help me get started. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I miss being active, I really do. I just felt so much better physically (i.e., sleep, weight) when I was a runner and going to the gym on a regular basis.

However, I probably won’t ever be an active runner again because I am too afraid of the threat of spontaneous fractures. Given that I had a hysterectomy and I take arimidex, the risk of spontaneous fractures is too high for my liking. (Again, the goal is to avoid ending up in the hospital.) Maybe I’ll try to do a 5K again? I will keep hiking for as long as I can, but training for races where I’d have to pound pavement and beat up my knees, etc.? Nope nope nope. That’s a risk I’m not willing to take.

I have already shown that I can run a half marathon and shit, marathons. I have the medals and the memories. Now it’s time to pivot and adjust to my current circumstances, and that means doing activities that someone like myself can do. I know that lifting weights will be extremely beneficial for someone who is at high risk for osteoporosis. I also have no idea if going back to the gym will help me lose any of the 30 lbs I have gained in the last 2+ years. I truly hope so because about 80 percent of my current wardrobe does not fit me haha. It was either join a gym or pay a small fortune to replace my wardrobe. I’m trying the gym route first.

My recent breakup really showed me that I was stuck in so many ways, and I did not even realize it. I was emotionally stuck in a long distance relationship with someone who made it clear he did not want to move back or truly commit to me. When someone repeatedly says they never want to get married, you should believe them. Trust me. I kept thinking if I proved to him that I was nothing like his ex, then maybe he might change his mind. All that got me was getting my ass dumped and heart broken after 6 years with little explanation. He repeatedly asked if we can stay friends, which I flat-out refused for several reasons: 1) I have plenty friends, and the friends I do have are open and honest with me; and 2) I have no desire to wait around for more emotional scraps from him. To protect my peace, I have blocked him on all social media that I can found, and it has helped tremendously.

I recently met a new man, but I won’t go into details here. My stalker Randy still reads my blog for whatever reason, and there’s a chance that D might read this too. I’m going to keep this new, amazing relationship that’s been making me grin from ear to ear to myself. Let’s just say that I’m not stuck in this respect, anymore. I will never ever ever do a long distance relationship again.

I am proud of myself for picking myself up after this breakup and being the one to put myself back together. I have been accomplishing so much with my cooking, and I have seen a difference with my stomach issues. Once I get back into the gym on a regular basis, I’m going to feel like myself again, and all it took was for me to remember to get up swinging again.

Another 11 miles

I did.  I ran another 11 miles.  Double-freaking-digits.  While this is my second double-digit run, this run was even more significant due to the fact that I have been a sickie again, living in Purgatory health.  For the last four to five weeks, I have been fighting off one illness after another.   It started off as a cold, then I had a stomach virus that completely wiped me out, then a sinus infection.  The Boyfriend has been sick, and then it seems I get it, and then so on.  Unfortunately, he has seemingly been hit harder than me with all these illnesses, and I’ve been bouncing back, while he has been splat on the ground.

Training during a period of time where you just want to lay down, curl up with a pair of crazy mutts, and watch bad reality television is challenging.  I want to run.  I want to go to yoga and get my stretch on, gurrrl.  The idea of resting when I’m so close to the half marathon?  No, I can’t!  I rested for two years, and I’m tired of resting.

I ended up listening to my training group’s advice to give it a rest.  Illness and training do not go hand in hand.  More like hand-to-hand combat.  The couple of times I tried to run when under the weather yielded terrible results.  When I went to yoga even though I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, horrible idea.  Finally, I threw my hands up, went to the doctor to get some much-needed antibiotics, and didn’t run for more than a week.

Today was my first long run in two weeks, and I felt pretty great until mile 9 when the IT band pain hit again.  Since I had two miles to go, I wasn’t going to quit.  Those two miles were tougher than the first 9 (I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence).  When my watch beeped at the 11 mile mark, I resisted the urge to yell, “YES!”  I was also secretly overjoyed that one of my mentors said I was a “strong” runner.  SOMEONE CALLED ME STRONG AND IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HAVING HAD CANCER.

I wish I could spread the message to other people who just finished cancer treatment that they, too, can run.  (Of course, always get a “go-ahead” from their oncologist.)  I haven’t even been running for a year, like 9 months, and I’m weeks away from running 13.1 miles.  I’m not an athlete and well, have never been athletic.  It’s like all my surgeries and treatment have flipped a switch in me.  I know what it’s like to feel like you’re choking to death, or so sick and in pain that you have to have help walking up stairs, or so zapped of energy that you can barely get out of bed.  I have been pushed to my limits during cancer treatment.

Now I am being pushed to my limits but in a so much better way.

Running

When I was in middle school and high school, I played sports but I was never good at them.  I probably would go as far as to say I stunk.  Pretty sure my family members who went to my softball games would also agree.  As soon as I turned 16 and could find a part-time job, I said good-bye to softball and began working at the local amusement park.

In an effort to get back into pre-cancer shape, at the recommendation of two dear friends, I joined this couch to 5K training group.  I had been pushing myself on the treadmill at my local gym in summer 2013.  Every time I pushed myself faster or longer, I felt so proud of myself, also fighting the urge to high-five other people at the gym.

High five me!  Come on, man!   I had breast cancer, and I’m recovering from months of reconstruction.  This is HUGE.

Both of my friends, who ran marathons and half-marathons, kept encouraging me to keep running but go beyond the treadmill.  Since they obviously knew what they were talking about, I listened and I’m glad I did.   Six months later, I just ran 5.5 miles on New Year’s Day with a group of runners, and I made good time.  Running to me is an individualized sport.  I’m at the point where I’m not trying to win in my age group.  I just want to improve my own time.  Sure, winning would be nice, but finishing the race is all that matters.

Image

Running has been the last step I needed to take for my recovery from breast cancer.  I am in the best shape of my life, and I’m not talking about post-cancer shape.  Right now, I am in the best shape of my pre- and post-cancer life.  I can run over 5 miles three times a week, which is definitely not something I could have said in 2009 or 2010.  Sure, I was thin and probably 10 pounds lighter than I am, but I was in awful shape.

Not anymore.

On top of the physical benefits, the mental benefits have been greater.  When I’m running, I’m not worrying about my job, my family, my relationship or what I have to do at home to keep it from turning into a pigsty.  While running, I think about my body, like where my arms are, bringing my knees up higher, making sure my hips are pulled in and my butt isn’t sticking out.  Running, for me, is like meditation.  My brain takes a breather while my body is being pushed to its limits.

Running also helps to reduce my risk of developing a new breast cancer or developing a distance recurrence (i.e., metastatic breast cancer).  Research after research shows that physical activity can lower your risk of breast cancer.  Sadly, nothing helps you prevent cancer, and I definitely do not believe that women who go on to develop a new breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer never exercised.  (Sorry health nuts, even healthy, in-shape people develop breast cancer.)  When it comes to cancer, we just don’t know.  The best we can do is lower our risk.

Recently, an October 2013 New York Times article published a piece regarding how walking may lower breast cancer risk:

Meanwhile, those few women who were the most active, sweating vigorously for up to 10 hours each week, realized an even greater benefit, with 25 percent less risk of developing breast cancer than those women who exercised the least.

A 25 percent risk reduction isn’t nothing to sneeze at, no sir.

A June 2012 Time piece discussed similar results and numbers.

For the study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compared 1,500 women with breast cancer to more than 1,550 women without breast cancer who were part of the ongoing “Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project” that looked at environmental causes of the disease.

The researchers found that women who exercised during their reproductive years or following menopause reduced their risk of developing breast cancer. The greatest risk reduction was found in women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week (or two hours each day for five days), but a woman’s risk was reduced for all levels of exercise intensity, even light. Exercise appeared to reduce the risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancers, which are the most commonly diagnosed tumors among U.S. women.

That article mentioned “hormone receptor positive breast cancer,” as the most commonly diagnosed tumors.  Indeed, New York Times specified that er+ (the type of breast cancer I had) consisted of approximately 75 percent of breast cancer diagnoses.

I came across this Washington Post article written by a woman who also went through breast cancer treatment.  Elizabeth H. MacGregor wrote:

There was virtually nothing I could control about the nightmare of my cancer, I thought. But give me one thing that I can take charge of, that I can do — that I love to do — and I’m going to ride as if my life depends on it.

Ding, ding, ding.  That’s it, at least for me.  When it came to my cancer treatment, I had little to no control of what happened to me and what I had to endure.  Ms. MacGregor again wrote:

Some women are empowered by a cancer diagnosis, but I was not. I only felt vulnerable. While I trusted the medical professionals caring for me and the treatments I received, I found my role to be unsettlingly passive. Cycling allowed me to be an active participant in my treatment; it gave me agency in my recovery.

I took my doctors’ advice, and I underwent the treatment they suggested in an “unsettlingly passive” role.  Sure, I could have said no or kept looking for a doctor who would eventually tell me what I wanted them to tell me.  I went the conventional route with the conventional treatment, and I have no regrets.  The control aspect has come after treatment, and running is something I can control.  I decide whether or not I put my running shoes on.

While I don’t know if I’ll ever go through cancer treatment again, I at least know I’m making it harder for breast cancer to catch me.